“I give Perez credit, he put in the work and he knocked on doors and some people responded to his messaging, but I checked his platform. The only talking point he has that resonates with residents is the car tax thing, which has been in the works for a long time. Other than that, he doesn’t really have anything to offer the community.“
Tiana Ochoa is a social worker who has decided to mount a write-in campaign for the House District 13 seat in Providence against a very conservative Democrat with a spotty political history. Though this is a long shot campaign, in the following interview Ochoa makes a pretty good case for why supporting her efforts might be a great idea. After the interview I’ve included a short history of House District 13 representation. The interview was conducted by phone on Saturday morning.
UpriseRI: You are running for State Representative, District 13 in Providence, and this is a write-in campaign. Can you tell me why you decided to run now and what your thought process was?
Tiana Ochoa: I’ve been involved for some time in different community things and closely follow some political races. I was thinking great, there’s more people who are getting involved in District 13 and this is exciting, so I will follow this closely. Fast forward to the day when results are announced, we see that Ramon Perez won the seat, a seat that he had held years back. To me that was obviously disappointing because I believe that he’s not the right person to represent this district for various reasons.
I sat at home and had a myriad of feelings, to be quite frank. I thought, “I could sit here at home and be upset and be disappointed and have all these other feelings – or I can channel some of those feelings to purpose and do something about it.” I decided to have conversations with some people about running for that seat. Of course, initially my thought was, I have to get ready, I’ll run in two years for State Rep. But then the idea of this write-in campaign came up, and it was exciting and scary at the same time because it’s obviously such a short period of time and there’s so much to do to run an appropriate campaign.
After having conversations with different people, I just thought, “Why not?” I mean, if anything, we get messaging out there and we talk to people about why we deserve better representation in this district. Once we got into it, obviously we’re in it to win it and we’re working really hard to ensure that our message gets out and that we’re talking to neighbors and that we’re hearing neighbor’s concerns. We’ve been really busy for the past couple of weeks.
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UpriseRI: I’m sure you have been. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’ll try to make this not too long, because I know today’s a great day to be out door knocking, right?
Tiana: Yeah, we’re having a big canvas starting at 10:30.
UpriseRI: Good. So we have a little time. Let me ask you this – A write-in campaign, like you said, is really, really hard. And a couple of years ago, I looked into the history of write-in campaigns in Rhode Island. And at that time I wasn’t able to find an example of a successful write-in campaign in the state. Since then I’ve learned that there have been some successful write-in campaigns, but not for a state level position. So it doesn’t seem impossible, but it does seem really, really hard, especially given Ramon Perez, who seems to have had a pretty good ground game when it came to running against Mario Mendez. He had a slight lead before the mail ballots came in and then when the mail-in ballots were counted, he extended that lead by a lot. What your thoughts are on all of that?
Tiana: I’m not surprised that a lot of people chose to vote by mail ballots of course, given the pandemic. What I’m hearing in talking to the residents is that Perez was very persistent in coming to people’s doors. He came with paperwork in hand and to make it accessible for people to be able to apply for a mail ballot. Some have stated that they almost felt like they had to vote for him because he had facilitated the process. There’s a lot of interesting dynamics in our community. In District 13 we have a big immigrant community and in certain precincts, there’s a large Italian American community still here .All of those interesting dynamics play out in campaigns. We have large communities who are very invested in paying attention and we have those who have not been paying attention. You know, they’re busy, they’re working. They don’t necessarily believe that their vote matters, so they don’t get involved in the process. We have looked at these dynamics a lot. If you think about it, there’s 8000 registered voters in District 13 and slightly under 700 or 800 people get to choose the rep. That’s unfortunate.
It’s a tragedy because a good group of people should get involved and be able to elect the person they believe will represent them in a good way, in a respectable way, and will work hard for their interests. I give Perez credit, he put in the work and he knocked on doors and some people responded to his messaging, but I checked his platform. The only talking point he has that resonates with residents is the car tax thing, which has been in the works for a long time. Other than that, he doesn’t really have anything to offer the community.
In his platform he explains his commitment to the community but that commitment only presents when it’s time to seek votes for himself, right? He doesn’t present in any other way that is meaningful. Does he get involved in the community in those things that matter? Does he advocate for things in the community? Our community, 02909, was severely impacted by COVID and what did he do, meaningfully, to respond to that, to really support the community? I haven’t found anything. I get involved because I care and that’s my nature. I’ve always done that. So yes, he worked and he got some votes. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like the other candidates had the ability to campaign in a way that provided positive results.
UpriseRI: I’m going to go back to something you said. You said that you want a candidate who will represent in a good and respectable way, by implication saying that Perez doesn’t. I’ve covered the State House for a while. And I remember a couple of incidents with Ramon Perez at the State House where he kind of embarrassed himself. Do you think that reflects on the community at all? What do you think about when an elected official misbehaves?
Tiana: Well, it distracts, right? Rather than people taking a representative seriously, about the work they’re there to do, it’s distracting. It just shows that he doesn’t pay attention to what he’s doing. Like, how do you do that? How do you distribute material with this sort of content? And then the explanation is like, ‘Oh, well it was given to me,’ well, you are responsible because you distributed this material and therefore you need to be paying attention to these things. People talk about it like it’s a funny thing but it’s distracting from talking about the real issues that matter in our district. There are a lot of issues in our community that we need to be advocating for, fighting for, and when we have a representative that consistently puts himself in situations where people lose respect for him, then how are we really going to move any issues at all? How are we going to do anything?
UpriseRI: You’re running as a Democrat. Your opponent is also a Democrat, but he had, as his campaign manager, the co-chair of the Providence Republican Party, David Talan, who, after Perez won, went on Facebook and basically said, “Hey, I’m his campaign manager. We won this race.” In essence, Talan bragged about having a conservative Democrat going to the State House. In a sense, Talan was bragging about the Perez win as if Perez were a Republican, not a Democrat.
Tiana: Right. How disingenuous is it to run as a Democrat, if the person who’s driving all the effort is a Republican? It’s fair to say that since [Perez and Talan’s] ideologies are in alignment, he is really not a Democrat. And people don’t know that. People in the community don’t know that. So, then Mr Talon says, “I’m going to be his administrative assistant” that’s going to pay five high times more than he made as a campaign manager, that’s mind boggling. I’m like, where’s that money coming from? Is that in the budget? How does that work out? But the other piece is, the community does not know this man, whose ideologies are very much in alignment with the Trump Administration. So if we have a community that is so vulnerable, an immigrant community that’s been treated so badly by the administration, who are fearful, how does that make any sense? How, does Perez think he’s going to represent people and really be able to build trust in the community? He’s not really presenting himself for who he really is.
UpriseRI: I know David Talon is an outspoken Trump supporter and your community, the immigrant community, has been targeted by ICE, targeted by Trump’s immigration policies. And Perez has aligned himself closely with Talon. It feels like Perez is not being completely honest with the public about where he’s coming from politically.
Tiana: Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. Yes. And so, knowing all of that, I sat in my living room and I just said, “Oh my God, this is just not a good situation at all and we have to step up, we have to educate our community about who is running for office and who has now won the seat. We have to educate ourselves about what kinds of questions we should be asking our elected officials and do research.” I could have sat there and just waited for the next two years, but instead I felt like this was the right moment to step up and come out and talk to voters.
I have to say about the response at the door. It’s really great when we get to talk to voters and talk about the things that I stand for and why we deserve to be a represented by someone that will do a better job. It’s really great when people ask questions about the candidates, but when they ask questions about him and when they hear about things like who ran his campaign – where he stands on issues – people are very surprised because they don’t know that.
UpriseRI: District 13 has had a long history of less than stellar representation. Go back to John Carnevale, who four years ago ended his term, but also was convicted of perjury and had been accused of much worse crimes. He was a member in good standing on Speaker Mattiello’s leadership team. Then, when he was replaced by Ramon Perez, Perez also became a close ally to the Speaker. Then Mario Mendez came along and said he was going to stand up to the Speaker. But in the end, well, not even in the end, in the beginning, Mendez turned on that and said, “I’m going to cozy up to the Speaker.” And Mendez also became a reliable Speaker vote. This is a Speaker, who, for instance, has campaigned against allowing undocumented people to have driver’s licenses. Which I think might be an issue of concern to people in the immigrant community and yourself. So what do you think about that kind of representation and how do you think you will be different?
Tiana: That absolutely speaks to the fact that we have had representatives represent sectors of the community in District 13, they don’t represent the entire community. So it’s time to elect a leader that will look at the entire community. It’s a very diverse community. It’s very dynamic and we have to fight for everyone and ensure that we are advocating for everyone. Yes, the Speaker is always getting in the way of driver’s license for the undocumented, which has been a thing that we hear over and over each year at the State House, and the legislation doesn’t get anywhere. I am committed to fighting for everyone. I’m from an immigrant community.
I have friends who are undocumented. I care about everyone from the elderly who have been in this district for a long time and need access to things like medical care or better insurance to the undocumented who need a driver’s license; to the students who need better education. We need to make better investments in educating our youth. I care about all of these issues, because as someone who has worked in the human services field, I have worked with people from all places. I have worked with people from all ages and I have an understanding of what the different needs are depending on the population.
I think that things will be a lot different this time around with so many new people getting elected to office. It’s really exciting to see so many progressives and so many people who are invested in care and are pushing for real things. The goal is to get things accomplished other than just sort of waiting around wasting time and just not getting anything done. The time has come where we have to stand up, step up and advocate for those things and get involved. I truly hope that my campaign will inspire people in this district to get involved and they become passionate about the issues that matter and advocate for themselves and their neighbors. And so, yeah, it’s been very unfortunate. We have had, as you stated, a track record of representatives who have not done a good job of representing everybody.
UpriseRI: Do you see yourself as a progressive?
Tiana: Absolutely. To be able to improve the quality of life for everyone, there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to look at the minimum wage, right? Education and how we’re investing or not investing in the education. The children in the communities that I’m in need a lot more resources than other communities. So we need to advocate for that and ensure that we create a system where the funding is allocated appropriately. The issue of affordable housing is an issue that obviously affects all of us in this state. Ensuring that we find a way to have affordable housing, and that should be a right for everyone. The whole issue of sensible gun legislation, which you know my opponent doesn’t support. People are afraid here in this community, in District 13. We’ve had some incidents, and so it’s really scary for families. So these are the issues that matter and that we need to push forward. So yes, I would consider myself a progressive.
UpriseRI: Any last thoughts?
Tiana: I’m trying to get my message out there for people. I am trying to inspire our local residents. I’m also trying to inspire those who are at home and thinking, “What can I do?” Because sometimes when the world seems to be falling apart, we feel, “What can I do that is meaningful?” So if people want to get involved in our campaign and volunteer their time or support us in whichever way they can, I welcome all of that. We have only about four weeks to get the messaging out there and to door knock as much as we can. So for anyone who might be sort of thinking, “What do I do now?” You can come join us and support us. I’m running because I care. And I feel that it’s time to really represent all of our residents in a dignified way.
Donations can be sent to:
Friends of Tiana Ochoa
61 Stella St
UpriseRI: Thank you!
The recent history of House District 13 representation:
District 13 has long been under served by its representation in the House of Representatives, starting in 2009 when John Carnevale assumed office after running unopposed. Carnevale left office in 2017, after he was disqualified from the 2016 Democratic Party because it was determined that he did not live in his district.
Carnevale pleaded no contest to perjury in 2018, disqualifying him from public office for three years, and in 2011, while serving in the House, Carnevale was indicted for 1st and 2nd degree sexual assault. That case never went to trial because the alleged victim died shortly after the charges were brought.
Throughout Carnevale’s tenure as Representative he was on Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello‘s leadership team.
Ramon Perez took the office in 2017. Ramon’s single term was rife with indiscretions, including making national news for distributing a printout of a Wikipedia page to his fellow lawmakers in which open internet porn tabs could be seen. This made national news.
Perez was also accused of making inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature by women representatives during a presentation on sexual harassment.
Throughout his term, Perez was a loyal vote for House leadership and an ally to Speaker Mattiello.
Perez lost his seat to Mario Mendez in 2016. Mendez ran as a political newcomer with none of the baggage of Carnevale and Perez. Mendez, before assuming office, signed up with the Reform Caucus, a group of new and incumbent Democratic legislators opposed to Nicholas Mattiello becoming Speaker for another term. Upon taking office Mendez quickly broke with the Reform Caucus and became an ally of the Speaker.
In the 2020 Democratic primary, Ramon Perez defeated incumbent Mario Mendez and political newcomer Janice Falconer. At first the race between Mendez and Perez seemed close, with Falconer in third and Perez maintaining a slight lead. But after mail-in ballots were counted, Perez was far ahead of both his opponents.
The campaign manager for Ramon Perez was David Talan. After Perez was declared the winner, Talan went on Facebook to write:
David Talan is the co-chair of the Providence Republican Party.
Meanwhile, Perez lost no time in re-establishing his close relationship to Speaker Mattiello, posting the following photo on Facebook: